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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Rights body slams Modi's Gujarat

New Delhi: The US-based Human Rights Watch in its latest report not merely came up with a strong indictment of the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government for "ongoing threats and harassment of the victims and witnesses of Gujarat riots," it also asked the UPA government to swing into action "if it was serious about justice."

In its 30-page report, the Human Rights Watch Asia Division hit out, "Two years after the Gujarat riots, witnesses continue to be threatened and attacked. Not only has the Gujarat government failed to pursue those responsible for the riots, it is obstructing justice by its failure to protect witnesses." 

The needle was then pointed towards the Congress, which under Mrs Sonia Gandhi had played the "soft Hindutva card," during the Assembly elections in the state, held after the communal carnage on 2002. 

The report observed, "The new government in New Delhi has a chance to show that its serious about justice." 

Human Rights Watch wanted the Centre to "instruct the CBI to take charge of investigations and provide protection to people facing attacks and threats."
The report stated, "The climate of fear in Gujarat is so great that activists and witnesses are often reluctant to publicly discuss or even be privately interviewed about the threats they receive for fear of retribution from those who make threats or their allies, including some in powerful positions in the state government or the police." 

The report referred to the Bilkis case. Incidentally, the special court hearing the Bilkis Bano Yakub Rasool gangrape-cum-murder case on Thursday framed charges against 19 accused and issued summons to prime eyewitness Bilkis to depose on January 27.

"During the 2002 riots Bilkis and her family fled from their village, when it was attacked by a Hindu mob. They were later tracked down," the report stated. "The women were raped and killed and Bilkis, who was pregnant at the time, was gangraped. Her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter was snatched from her arms and killed by being smashed to the ground. Bilkis survived only because the attackers presumed her to be dead," the report disclosed. 

Continuing its indictment of the Modi government, the report accused the Gujarat chief minister of "consistently seeking to impede successful prosecutions of those allegedly involved in the massacre, leading the Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission to intervene on several occasions." 

Along with the Gujarat government, it has also asked the UPA to take steps to ensure the safety of activists, lawyers. victims and witnesses, who are fighting for justice, ensure credible witness protection programme, ensure the tax investigations are not used as a political tool against witnesses and activists and launch public awareness campaign in Gujarat and other states.

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